The U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cost 100,000 lives but saved millions who would have otherwise died defending and invading Japan. It was justified given the circumstances, and the existence of nuclear weapons may have prevented a third world war.
But for 70 years Hiroshima has also been a reminder of a means by which the world as we know it could be wiped out, and President Barack Obama recently went there to tell us how to avoid that possibility.
Obama said that we as a society must become more moral – even to the extent of getting rid of nuclear weapons. Maybe someday we will get that moral. But, in the intervening eons, what do we do about the nuclear threat?
What seems obvious is that lofty ideals, while important, are not practical and do not lead to positive action. If utopian hopes are used as a substitute for shrewd calculation, they can actually increase endangerment, and that sums up much if not all of Obama’s foreign policy.
From day one of his administration, Obama has rather obviously seen himself as a transformative figure, and nuclear rescue was part of that.
To that end, he started having nuclear summits and dreamily aimed for a reset with Russia. It mostly went kablooey. We’ve reduced our nuclear heft in hopes of enticement, while Russia has increased its in hopes of bullying.
Naive enthusiasms don’t die easily, and Obama agreed to an Iran deal that would drop sanctions and return billions to this terrorist-sponsoring, Israel-threatening, missile-testing, America-hating country. Inspections of the promised kind would not happen, and what did we get back?
Iran said it would not build nuclear weapons for maybe another 10 years and shipped away some enriched uranium that could slow down such a project by months. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia and other Iran-fearful countries are thinking about building their own nuclear weapons to cope with what might eventuate.
We are hardly safer now than before, and there’s more, such as China feeling bolder, North Korea going crazy and the Islamic State saying thank you for mistaken Obama decisions in Syria and Iraq. What’s stranger than fiction is that this president, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of what he would achieve, will be the only one in U.S. history to have presided over wars for two full terms, as The New York Times recently pointed out.
It’s not as if he has done nothing right, that there are no forces at play beyond his control or that his trip to Hiroshima was a mistake – cementing relations with at least one ally matters. But he has flunked the reality test.
A president who didn’t was Ronald Reagan. He likewise shuddered at nuclear weaponry. Yet, a review reminds us, his answer was to play from strength. He built up the military. He pushed a defensive missile system that the Soviets feared and lacked the funds to match. He assisted freedom forces in countries the Soviets were intimidating. He was tough in negotiations. And he got a treaty in which both countries agreed to destroy a class of nuclear weapons.
Many believe the Reagan strategy contributed to the Soviet Union’s collapse, and with that collapse came a sigh of relief. It seemed the nuclear threat had ended, but now we know it hasn’t. The Obama administration is at this stage furthering a project to modernize our weapons. There is some realism there, and maybe a future government can build on it in even more constructive ways.